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Abortion – Throne Speech – Accident Trouble – Prison Corruption – Old Murder – Peter Doone – Health Computer – Throne Speech – Treasury On Maori – Select Committees – Gulf Park – Transtasman Fares – Editorial: Throne Speech

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ABORTION: The Coalition Government is investigating changing the law to make it easier for women to get abortions. The cabinet will review abortion laws following the release of a strongly worded report by the Abortion Supervisory Committee. Although any vote will be a conscience vote, Women's Affairs Minister Laila Harre said last night that abortion procedures were unnecessarily complicated and she wanted to make them simpler.

THRONE SPEECH: Labour and the Alliance began dismantling nine years of National's market reforms yesterday at the state opening of Parliament. Reading the speech from the throne on behalf of Prime Minister Helen Clark, the Governor-General, Sir Michael Hardie Boys, said the Government realised its ambitious programme would not be easy to achieve.

ACCIDENT TROUBLE: John Donderwinkel was in hospital with a fractured skull when he read in the Herald that police blamed him for a fatal car accident near Karapiro. The horrifying news marked the beginning of a two-year battle to clear his name from charges of careless driving causing the death of Tokoroa man Takai Sema in August 1997.

PRISON CORRUPTION: Ten jail staff have been sacked or suspended from two of New Zealand's biggest prisons amid rumours of cash deals with inmates and secret visits by girlfriends. The Department of Corrections confirmed yesterday that eight staff were suspended from Tongariro/Rangipo Prison for allegedly exploiting inmate labour in a workshop used for servicing vehicles.

OLD MURDER: He was an old sea dog with no family, whose home was whichever freighter he was crewing through often treacherous southern waters. Now, nearly 29 years after his shipboard death, Les Forrest's solitary life is being probed by detectives who have been told his fall down a set of steps was no accident.

PETER DOONE: Police Commissioner Peter Doone has rejected calls for him to resign, saying judgments should wait until the facts of a roadside incident with a constable are made public. Responding to an editorial in the Herald yesterday that said he should quit now after the incident as well as his close involvement with the failed $104 million Incis computer project, Mr Doone said he was unable to enter public debate on the issues.

HEALTH COMPUTER: Health Waikato is under pressure to review its controversial choice of computer network. Critics of the $11 million Shared Medical Systems (SMS) were claiming vindication yesterday after the release of a report into Health Waikato's decision to buy the computer upgrade.

THRONE SPEECH: "Responsible, pragmatic change in the interests of the many." Those are the watchwords in yesterday's speech from the throne, now guiding the Labour-Alliance Coalition. The document does not promise to change the world in a hurry. But it is very firm about one thing. For the first time in a long time - and unlike 1984 and 1990 - this Government really will honour its promises.

TREASURY ON MAORI: The Government's goal of closing the gaps between rich and poor and between Maori and non-Maori is the hardest challenge for economic and social policy, says Treasury Secretary Alan Bollard. Disparities were increased by the trend to global competition and by higher pay for the better skilled and educated, he said yesterday. Prime Minister Helen Clark has identified closing economic and social gaps as a key aim. It was reiterated in yesterday's speech from the throne.

SELECT COMMITTEES: Labour MPs disappointed about not getting into the cabinet are expected to receive plum select committee jobs today. Mark Peck (Invercargill) is tipped to head the finance and expenditure select committee. He has served on it before. Harry Duynhoven (New Plymouth), the former transport spokesman, will chair the transport and industrial relations committee. Taito Phillip Field (Mangere), the former Pacific Island affairs spokesman, will chair the social services committee. And Graham Kelly (Mana), the former housing spokesman, will head the foreign affairs and defence committee.

HAURAKI GULF PARK: Cross-party support for creating the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park has come to nothing after Act's refusal to join the parliamentary fold wanting to pass the legislation before Christmas. The 10-year campaign aimed at raising the status and environmental care of the gulf will now go on hold until Parliament resumes in early February. By then the Louis Vuitton Cup will be over, but America's Cup racing starts on February 19.

TRANSTASMAN FARES FALL: Air New Zealand has followed Qantas in slashing its transtasman fares for the first six months of next year. Air New Zealand has cut return fares from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch to Sydney to $399, and to Brisbane and Melbourne to $499. The fares are the same as Qantas offers, and match budget carriers.

EDITORIAL – THRONE SPEECH: Speeches from the throne usually paint only a broad canvas of an incoming Government's intentions. The minutia of policy is left to later, when it may land with the type of impact usually associated with a bombshell. It is a mark in favour of the Labour-led coalition that the potential for nasty surprises was lessened by the inclusion of a barrow-load of specifics in yesterday's speech from the throne. The address, delivered on behalf of Prime Minister Helen Clark, opened with the premise that New Zealanders had voted for a change of government and a change in direction in economic and social policy. Given that, it went on to leave no doubt that this Government will be one of involvement. The contrast with the disengagement of the previous Administration could hardly have been spelled out more clearly.

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